Johnson’s contract was another big play by Vinik

by Gary Shelton on July 12, 2017 · 2 comments

in general

Johnson needs to bounce back to form./JEFFREY S. KING

Johnson needs to bounce back to form./JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 2 a.m.

Good for Tyler Johnson. The little forward got a big payday.

Johnson, when healthy, is a good deal for the Bolts.He has vision, and he has energy, and he has perspective. True, to last through this contract, he has to have some bounceback to him after two seasons in which he has scored fewer than 20 goals. But for the Bolts to be successful, they have to have more people than Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov score.

And good for Steve Yzerman, who looks smart all over again. He paid plenty for Johnson, but he didn't pay him to the level that the team can't move him if Johnson continues to be hit by injury. Yzerman invested in a Johnson comeback without marrying his team to it.

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In other words, this was one of those deals that helped a lot of people. It helped the Triplets, should Jon Cooper choose to play them more as a unit (hint, hint) than he did last year. It helped the team as a whole, which has spent a lot of hours working on its defense. And it helped the fans, because as a small, fiesty player, Johnson is the perfect sort of favorite for them.

But you know who this deal is really good for?

It's really good for Jeff Vinik.

Again.

Vinik continues to be a perfect sports owner. He invests in his players, and he stays out of the way. He has a bond with his fans, a trust in Yzerman and the admiration of his players. Community? Check. Team? Check. Hunger? Check. You can wish this owner had a little more of that, and that owner had a little more of this. But Vinik seems to hit all the right notes, doesn't he? The only thing he needs is a photo of him lifting the Cup.

In other stadiums, you might get a little nervous when a star's contract is up. Not Vinik. It never ocurred to most of us that Johnson would end up elsewhere. Not for a second. Same with Ondrej Palat. Some day, the Lightning might not be able to afford a player. But not now. Not this year. (The closest thing was before Jonathan Drouin was traded before he had his big payday).

And that's the thing about Lightning fans. They don't have to sweat. Yzerman (with Vinik's money) didn't let Stamkos go, or Kucherov, or Hedman, or Killorn. And good for the Bolts. They spent $15 million less for their unsigned Tyler Johnson than the Miami Heat spent for theirs (and got three more years of length on the contract).

The trouble with Johnson is that he plays so hard, and he's so small, that he continually beats himself up. Johnson has to be more durable than he has been lately. He has to be more of an impact. Everyone knows that. Johnson of three and four years ago was a major deal. The last two years? Not so much.

But when he's healthy, Johnson plays a nice game. He has creativity, and he has competitiveness, and he gets it. He has soft hands. And around here, where we saw Marty St. Louis become a star, we have an appreciation for an undersized player.

This is no longer a young team. This is a wealthy team, a team that can have boat races on its yachts. But the best players never allow you to think about their paychecks. Ask yourself: Did you ever think about what Michael Jordan was making when he was winning titles? Joe Montana? Derek Jeter?

Hopefully, this Lightning team will be that way, too.

After all, they have a smart playmaker. They have a player of vision, of hunger. They have someone who you can depend upon to make a play.

You can say that about Johnson.

About Vinik, too.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller July 12, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I had an Ask Gary question teed up on this subject but you have already answered it with this column. I wish I shared your enthusiasm for this signing. Johnson is a popular player who has played at a high level in the past but not recently for the reasons you mentioned. He is small and takes a pounding. The Lightning doesn’t have players with enough muscle to protect him. He will play injured but not well. He also is missing more and more time due to injury. So the fans may think we have another Marty St. Louis because of the size similarity but I’m not seeing it. I think that Yzerman still could move him if he finds the right opportunity so from that standpoint it is a good signing because they retain a guy who has decent trade value.

Also I agree Vinik is a great owner, the best in the area. But with the salary cap in place for hockey as it is for football why wouldn’t he retain a good player that can be fit under the cap? That’s a no brainer. Yzerman deserves a lot more credit than the owner in that instance.

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Gary Shelton July 12, 2017 at 9:17 pm

I won’t argue whether owner or general manager deserves more credit, but the owner pays the salaries.Without his money, a g.m. can’t lift a finger.

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